Find Services and other Health Information from A-Z


Bronchiolitis is an inflammation in the lungs. It affects the small breathing tubes. It is most common in children under 2 years of age. Children tend to get better after a few days. But in some cases it can lead to severe illness. So a child with this lung infection must be treated and watched carefully.

Girl sitting up in bed, coughing.What is bronchiolitis?

Bronchiiolitis is an infection that involves the small breathing tubes of the lungs. It is almost always caused by a virus, usually the respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) but it can be caused by other viruses as well. The virus causes the bronchioles (very small breathing tubes in the lungs) to become inflamed, swollen, and filled with fluid. In small children this can lead to difficulties breathing and feeding. The symptoms start out like those of a common cold. They include stuffy and runny nose, sneezing, and a mild cough. Over a few days, your child may develop wheezing, trouble breathing, and a fever.

Treating bronchiolitis

Bronchiolitis is caused by a virus. This means that antibiotics are not an effective treatment. Your health care provider may prescribe saline nose drops to help clear the mucus. Steroids have not been found to be effective in the treatment of bronchiolitis. The only treatment that may be helpful is albuteraol (a bronchodilator) which may help open up the airways. In severe cases, the child may need to stay in the hospital. Here, the child may be given fluids and breathing treatments.

Preventing the spread

The viruses that lead to bronchiolitis are very contagious. They can be spread through touching, coughing, or sneezing. To help stop the spread of infection:

  • Wash your hands with warm water and soap often. Do this after sneezing, coughing, and touching your face. Do it before and after tending to a sick child.

  • Limit contact between a sick child and other children.

When to seek medical care

Call your health care provider right away if your child:

  • Gets worse.

  • Starts a harsh, persistent, or wheezy cough.

  • Breathes faster than normal or has trouble breathing.

  • Is very sleepy, listless, or weak.

  • Is an infant under 3 months with a rectal temperature of 100.4°F (38.0°C) or higher

  • Is a child of any age who has a repeated temperature of 104°F (40°C) or higher

  • Has a fever that lasts more than 24-hours in a child under 2 years old, or for 3 days in a child 2 years older

  • Has had a seizure caused by the fever